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Toward Columbus: HIV/AIDS issues, training to be taken up by Convention

By Matthew Davies
4/13/2006
[Episcopal News Service]  Eliminating the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS and providing appropriate training about the pandemic will be addressed in six resolutions to be presented to legislative committees at the Episcopal Church's 75th General Convention when it meets in Columbus, Ohio, June 13-21.

Resolutions A107 and A131 will ask General Convention to affirm and authorize the continuing work of the Standing Committee on HIV/AIDS for the 2007–2009 triennium, asking that it "focus on mechanisms for increasing HIV/AIDS awareness in our Church, reducing the effects of stigmatization by HIV/AIDS and continue the process of identifying those whom we are called to serve but may overlook."

Resolution A132 acknowledges that such stigmatization "creates impediments to seeking treatment and care for the disease and education about the disease, resulting in detrimental effects on individuals, the church, and society at-large."

HIV/AIDS training will be central to the proposed legislation, which would urge all parishes, dioceses, seminaries, boards and commissions to educate their members about the pandemic and related issues.

Furthermore, recommendations will advocate educating local, state and federal elected officials and representatives about HIV/AIDS "with the goal of creating knowledgeable, compassionate, and sensitive public policy in educational services, support services, and medical treatment institutions."

Leading the way

The Episcopal Church was a leader among the mainline churches in addressing the HIV/AIDS pandemic at the 1985 General Convention. "We have done much to advocate for persons living with HIV/AIDS and for their caregivers ever since, " explained the Rev. Brian Grieves, director of the church's Office of Peace and Justice Ministries.

"Despite treatment breakthroughs, the virus remains a major health threat for ever-changing population groups here at home, and is a devastating tragedy for many countries abroad," Grieves added. "Most of our advocacy efforts these past few years have been where the problem is greatest: in the international arena and the spread of HIV/
AIDS globally."

Although "monumental commitments" have been made by the U.S. government to the fight against HIV/AIDS globally over the past triennium, "major challenges have emerged in getting lawmakers and the White House to honor those commitments," according to Alex Baumgarten, international policy analyst in the church's Office of Government Relations in Washington, DC. Faith-based advocacy has played a major part in holding the U.S. government accountable, Baumgarten explained.

HIV training curriculum

Requirements that both lay and ordained leadership of the Episcopal Church take a basic HIV/AIDS training course, beginning September 1, 2007, is requested in Resolution A134, which also recommends that the Office of Peace and Justice Ministries, in collaboration with the National Episcopal AIDS Coalition (NEAC) and the Standing Committee on HIV/AIDS, develop an HIV training curriculum that will be updated each triennium.

Formed in 1988 and funded partly by General Convention, NEAC provides support for HIV and AIDS ministries across the Episcopal Church, especially for caregivers and those who minister to people affected by HIV/AIDS.

Recognizing the need for developing online resources in order to maximize efficiency, A134 will also recommend that the training be a web-based, self-directed tutorial to be housed on the Episcopal Church's website.

In Resolution A133, General Convention will be asked to direct the Office of Communication to create a media campaign for the Episcopal Church as well as the broader population that will raise awareness about HIV/AIDS.

Finally, Resolution A135 will request that the Episcopal Church's Director of Research and its Office of Congregational Development "map the church-wide HIV/AIDS resources and ministries" and provide this information to the Standing Committee by June 2008 as well as report to the 76th General Convention.

"As we move forward over the next several years, with the world lagging dramatically in meeting the treatment and prevention targets it has set, the grassroots advocacy of people of faith will be key to whether the HIV/AIDS pandemic is brought under control or allowed to ravage yet another generation of people, particularly in the developing world," Baumgarten said.

The report of the Standing Committee on HIV/AIDS and the full texts of the related resolutions can be read at http://www.episcopalarchives.org/e-archives/bluebook/33.html.